Notes for Takahashi, Buckinx, Wolff Recording

Notes for Takahashi, Buckinx, Wolff Recording

Yuji Takahashi was born in Tokyo in 1938,  where he studied composition with Minao Shibata and Roh Ogura, and piano with Hiroshi Ito. He first became known for his playing of new piano music and for  his composing around 1961- 62, at about which time he also organized an ensemble for new music, the New Directions Group, along with fellow composers Toshi  Ichiyanagi and Kenji Kobayashi.

Takahashi lived in Berlin from 1963 to 1965, where he studied with Iannis Xenakis. In 1966 he came to New York to  compose music using computers, and was subsequently a highly visible and  influential participant in new music activities in the U. S. and Europe. In 1966  and 1968 he performed and spoke at the UNESCO International Music Council Congresses in Manila and New York and wrote a work performed at the Japanese  Music Pavilion at the 1970 Osaka World's Fair. Upon his return to Japan in 1972, Takahashi was involved in organizing and performing with like-minded groups of musicians - the composers' group tranSonic (along with Takemitsu and Joji Yuasa), in the 1980s, the Suigyu (Water Buffalo) Band, writing and performing  Asian protest songs and, in 1999, Ito. He has done much work in recent years  with computers in the making of music; in 1989 he appeared at the Macintosh  Festival in Tokyo, and in 1991 organized the first Pacific Rim Computer Festival  and the Ikebukuro Cyber Cafe. He has also participated in symposiums and  discussions of his work, such as the 19th ISCM Summer Course for Young Composers in Poland in 1999 with Louis Andriessen, the 1999 Tokyo Festival and the 2003 Northeast Asia Festival in Osaka.

In early 2001, I asked Takahashi to write a  piece for me to play on a recital that would include Kwangju, May 1980 and Rzewski's The People United Will Never Be Defeated. In a note accompanying the score he wrote: 'Since your program consists of Kwangju and Pueblo Unido, you  can also consider this piece as variations on song melodies, as in the Western traditions of instrumental music, or as a sort of collage, as in Chinese poetic tradition or T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland and Pound's Cantos. The materials are  taken from two songs out of the song cycle 'I Am Twelve Years Old' I wrote in  1977. Those two songs are, in turn, based on a few Korean folk tunes like  Yangsando and Sangyeo-sori  (the same melody as the beginning of Kwangju, May  1980).’ The texts are from the notebook of a Korean-Japanese boy.

Takahashi's score consists of 7 pages of basic musical material and a variety of instructions on how to use the material to make the piece ("combine and develop written phrases, work a while on one or  a few of them by deviating, permuting or by improvising", "play a fragment in  sight, try again and again any number of times, these fragments are modifiable",  "no thinking or projecting", "respect your mistakes and modify the written notes  accordingly or improvise the change"). Two different versions, recorded live, are presented on this recording.


Boudewijn Buckinx, born 1945 in Lommel,  Belgium, attended the Antwerp Conservatory, studied composition and serial music with Goethals in Ghent, attended Stockhausen's courses in Darmstadt and  completed his studies in 1972 with a dissertation on Cage. With his group WHAM (Working Group for Contemporary and Topical Music), founded in 1963, he introduced much new music, particularly works by Wolff, Cardew and Cage, to Flanders. He was producer for new music at Belgian Radio and Television and taught at the conservatories in Antwerp and Liege.

Although, on the surface, his music has  elements of both classical and experimental composition, he has, since the  1980s, left behind both avant-garde and post-modern music and believes that  "style" is irrelevant. He is attracted to "experienced" music (here he sees the  connection between Cage and Schubert) rather than to "constructed" music, the composer being focused not so much on the finished result as on the act of  "making things".

His comments on "The Floating  World":

The Floating World was commissioned by Stanford University and is dedicated to Thomas Schultz. I'd been asked for a piano piece of some twenty minutes which could be placed on the same program as  Frederic Rzewski's The People United Will Never Be Defeated. This is one of the  very great pieces of piano music of the 20th century and a typical example of music with an explicit content, in this case political involvement. Pondering  the situation, I felt more and more strongly the discrepancy between the  worldwide success of The People United and the ideas behind it. Our situation today, so different from the late sixties, sheds a different light on things.

The Floating World has been so brilliantly described in Kazuo  Ishiguro's wonderful first novel An Artist of the Floating World. His title, of  course, alludes to the Ukiyo-e, the Japanese woodprints illustrating the  short-lived pleasures of life. So I tried to write not just another piece that might harmonize with The People United, but one that reflects an awareness of a "floating world". This idea is also better suited to my idea of "free
tonality", applied here as changes and fluctuations in different layers, where there might  seem to be great stability in one layer, and instability in the next.

Boudewijn Buckinx  4/29/2004


Christian Wolff, born 1934 in Nice, France, has lived in the U.S. since 1941. As a 16-year-old he studied  composition with John Cage and later had close associations with Morton Feldman, David Tudor, Earle Brown, Frederic Rzewski and Cornelius Cardew. Until his  recent retirement, he was Professor of Classics at Dartmouth College. He has  received awards and grants from the Fromm Foundation, the American Academy and National Institute of Arts and Letters and DAAD (Berlin). He is a member of the  Akademie der Kunste in Berlin.

Wolff's eminence as a composer, musical  thinker and writer stems from a number of sources: his early and continuing use of chance operations and indeterminacy, his pioneering integration in his compositions of varying degrees of freedom at the actual time of performance,  and his concern with social and political issues. His music has a sound that is  melodic, spare, animated and always challenging for both player and listener (often in a way similar to Brakhage's films The Garden of Earthly Delights and Mothlight).

About Touch, Wolff  writes:

This piano music was written for Tom Schultz and supported by  a commission from the Music Department of Stanford University. While  working on it the news came of Earle Brown's death, and the music became a memorial tribute to Earle whom I've known since he came to New York in 1952 and  whose work I've admired and been affected by from that time.

A year and a half ago I made Pianist: Pieces for Aki Takahashi and wrestled with what I've come to feel are the limitations of the piano, particularly  the relentless repetition of the twelve note tempered scale. Touch continues that project. The title translates toccata (a kind of keyboard  composition started in late 16th century Italy featuring virtuosity and improvisatory elements) and refers to, among other things, the physical  process by which sound is produced. The piece tries out some of the variety of that process, partly by the choosing of pitches, more through rhythms and  layered rhythmic relations of sounds, sometimes by the ways fingers are  located and move on the keyboard.

The performer is (of course!)  closely involved. The composition has its structures, smaller and overall. There are five sections and a coda. The fifth section is made up of five subsections. All the parts have distinctive aspects, are patches of a kind  of evolving quilt. The overall structure is also open to modification by the performer who may choose to omit any section or subsection and may repeat  any one part of the piece at any later, not immediately subsequent, point  in the performance. (This idea I found long ago in the prefatory instructions of Frescobaldi - 1583-1643 -   for his keyboard works, including toccatas. The works are  referred to as "in open score"). Dynamics are mostly left open, also tempi and  sometimes pitches may be read freely in either treble or bass clef (a procedure sometimes found in Ornette Coleman's compositions).

This is mostly technical information. What the music as music conveys is,  variably, up to its listeners in a kind of conversation with the (variable) performance from the score.                                


"If I should move to the center of the mass, I should feel that the germinal potential was out there on the  periphery “The great rich plains of the world are dominated by a few species, in large numbers; the uncommon plants grow in broken terrain and on uncommon soils.  It is up to us to see that the promising variant gets sheltered ground."

Carl Sauer, 1952

"The information that is accumulated at the center and then dispersed to the periphery tends necessarily toward the abstract or universal, toward general applicability.”  When the periphery accepts these things uncritically, adapting the ideas and language of the center, then it has begun to belong to the center, and usually at a long-term cost to itself. The immediate cost is the loss of knowledge and  language specific to localities."

Wendell Berry, 2004

Of the composers on this recording, I was drawn  initially to the music of Wolff, having stumbled as a student across scores of  his early piano music (written when he was 18 years old) and a recording of Burdocks played by, among others, David Tudor, Frederic Rzewski and Wolff himself. It was Wolff who then sent me a copy of Takahashi's Kwangju, May  1980 - Takahashi's scores were exceedingly difficult to obtain - and Rzewski  who made me aware of Buckinx, as a composer whose music he admired.

This music exists far from the center of the new music world, far from the sphere of international music publishers and recording companies, major orchestras and  star soloists. The composers themselves have traveled a great distance from their youthful days of involvement and association with Darmstadt, Die Reihe, RCA, Columbia, Nonesuch, Stockhausen, Xenakis, and Cage. The music they've  written is highly personal (Berry's "specific to localities"), uncategorizable  (not belonging to Sauer's "few species") and made of materials that are not to be found in academic settings.

T. S. San Francisco, April,  2006


The three works on this recording were commissioned with assistance from Stanford University's Smith Piano  Fund.

In memory of Leonard Stein, 1916-2004